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Innovation heating up the urban future

Innovation heating up the urban future

Speakers at EmTech Asia gave insights into how new technologies are changing the way we live, work and innovate as a community in the city.

EmTech Asia 2018
Mr Yeong Zee Kin, Assistant Chief Executive at IMDA, shared about 'Building a Community of Innovation' in his EmTech Asia opening address.


By Francis Kan

A train that travels as fast as an airplane and an ambitious plan to cool temperatures in Singapore.

Just two exciting visions of the city of the future that were presented at a global conference on emerging technology.

Held in Singapore on Jan 30 and 31, the EmTech Asia conference showcased leading-edge technologies with the greatest potential to change lives and brought together some of the most innovative people and companies in the world.

Mr Paul Smith
Mr Paul Smith, Manager of Global Field Operation at Virgin Hyperloop One. (Photo credit: EmTech Asia Facebook)

Next stop: Supersonic train travel

Participants at the Future Cities session were given a glimpse into the future of transportation when Paul Smith, Manager of Global Field Operation at Virgin Hyperloop One, gave an update on his company's revolutionary train system, which aims to transport people in pods through tubes at speeds comparable to those of commercial airlines.

The pod moves above the track using magnetic levitation and glides at high speeds for long distances.

The hyperloop project is currently being tested in a desert in Nevada, USA, and could come into operation by 2021, the company has said.

A hyperloop system could theoretically propel passengers at a top speed of 1,200 km/hour.

Mr Smith said hyperloop trains would address the problem of insufficient airport capacity.

Virgin Hyperloop One
A screenshot of the Virgin Hyperloop One website.

It could also connect passengers quickly between airports and cities, allowing airport terminals to be built further away from congested city centres.

But such a system would have ramifications beyond just faster commutes, and impact the way cities and businesses operate.

People can now choose to live in one city and work in another, if the two are connected by a hyperloop.

This could potentially broaden the talent pool that companies can hire from.

More face-to- face connections will also be possible, changing the way companies do business.

"It changes everything about how cities work," said Mr Smith.

He also believes that the research and development being done on the hyperloop will eventually have positive knock-on effects to other industries, similar to the impact that the USA’s space programme had on the development of the natural sciences and medicine.

"Things get better just by attempting it," he said.

Urban heat island
The Cooling Singapore initiative seeks to combat the urban heat island (UHI) effect.

A really cool idea

Closer to home, an ambitious research project is in the works to cool temperatures in tropical Singapore.

The Cooling Singapore initiative was established at the start of 2017 to combat what is known as the urban heat island (UHI) effect, a phenomenon where a city's dense structures – tall buildings that are clustered together – trap heat because of energy consumed, a lack of vegetation and building materials that absorb and store heat from the sun.

Heavily built-up areas in Singapore can be more than 7 degrees Celsius hotter than suburban parts at certain times of the day, revealed Prof Dr Gerhard Schmitt, Director, Singapore-ETH Centre, one of the members of Cooling Singapore.

"The impact of what we introduce into the city and global warming reduces liveability. We need to reduce temperatures so that we can be outdoors," said Prof Schmitt.

Prof Gerhard Schmitt
Prof Dr Gerhard Schmitt, Director, Singapore-ETH Centre. (Photo credit: EmTech Asia Facebook)

Heat stress, he noted, could cut productivity by up to 25 per cent within 30 years as it impacts the ability of a workforce to undertake physical activity.

Funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF), Cooling Singapore brings together researchers from the Singapore-ETH Centre, the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart), TUM Create and the National University of Singapore.

The group has been working with a UHI task force with representatives from government agencies, such as the Housing and Development Board (HDB), the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the National Parks Board (NParks).

Cooling Singapore has come up with a roadmap that includes 86 strategies to mitigate the heat in Singapore.

These include proposed innovations such as green parking lots, urban farms, variation in building heights, shaded bicycle lanes and well-ventilated pedestrian walkways. The road map could be ready for the World Cities Summit to be held in July this year.

Mr Yeong Zee Kin
Mr Yeong Zee Kin: "We find spaces for people to gather and for innovation to take place."

A Community of Innovation

Meanwhile, the Urban Heat Island Task Force and other innovators in Singapore are well supported in their efforts by an ecosystem that actively encourages innovation.  

In his address on the first day of EmTech Asia, Yeong Zee Kin, Assistant Chief Executive at the Info-communications Media Development Authority, highlighted the different ways that the Government is working to build "a place for individuals to dream".

These include creating spaces that put innovators together under one roof, where younger entrepreneurs can gain access to mentors and funding.

"We find spaces for people to gather and for innovation to take place," said Mr Yeong.

The Government is also trying to not get in the way of innovation by creating regulatory sandboxes for emerging sectors such as fintech or with personal data, where players can experiment without worrying about overstepping boundaries.




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